Buena Vista University, Estelle Siebens Science Center

Storm Lake, Iowa

  • FIRM

    BWBR Architects, Inc.


    Buena Vista University

  • AREA

    69,700 sq.ft.





Buena Vista University’s (BVU) approach to innovative science education, which emphasizes “learning science by doing science,” has endured since the 1920s. Its science facilities, however, were crowded, inflexible and outdated.

This fall, students and faculty returned to a sparkling new 2½-story, 69,700-square-foot building for learning biology, chemistry, ADDITIONAL INFORMATIONCOST PER SQ FT$206.95FEATURED IN2004 Architectural Portfolio science, mathematics, and physics. With space per student tripled—a design that fosters experiential learning and collaborative research—and a philosophy of “putting science on display,” the new building promises to help re-energize science at BVU.

“The Beaker,” a two-story glass entry rotunda, provides a gathering space for student and faculty interaction, connects the two levels, creates a new face for science, and serves as a metaphor for the research and discovery occurring within. “Science Avenue,” a central public corridor on both levels, divides faculty offices, seminar rooms and study areas from teaching labs and classrooms, and offers myriad opportunities to put science on display—from numerous display cases to three 150-gallon aquariums and a wall that will feature a fossil collection arranged in a timeline.

Expansive windows pull abundant daylight into the labs, which use flexible furnishings and pullout laptop shelves for countertop-free access to BVU’s campuswide wireless network. The labs are complemented by classrooms ranging from a tiered 84-seat room to 30-student classrooms with movable chairs and tables for maximum flexibility; ample seminar rooms, equipment storage areas and whiteboards; and state-of-the-art computer capabilities.

Red brick and arched windows settle the building into its campus context, while a striking use of copper panels as window insets and siding put science on display by showcasing the copper’s oxidation as it weathers. A living prairie planted alongside the building offers outdoor scientific explorations, complemented by a greenhouse with three environmental-growth chambers planted at the end of Science Avenue.